Entertainment

Sesame Street co-creator Lloyd Morrisett dead at 93

Lloyd Morrisett, the co-creator of the beloved children's education TV series Sesame Street, featuring fuzzy monsters like Abby Cadabby, Elmo and Cookie Monster, has died. He was 93.

Morrisett helped create iconic children's show in 1960s, along with follow-up The Electric Company

A man in a suit and bowtie, using a cane, is seen on a red carpet.
Lloyd Morrisett is shown in Dec. 7, 2019, at an event in Washington, D.C., related to the Kennedy Center Honors. The co-creator of Sesame Street has died, the Sesame Workshop announced on Tuesday. (Kevin Wolf/The Associated Press)

Lloyd Morrisett, the co-creator of the beloved children's education TV series Sesame Street, featuring fuzzy monsters like Abby Cadabby, Elmo and Cookie Monster to charm and teach generations around the world, has died. He was 93.

Morrisett's death was announced Tuesday by Sesame Workshop, the non-profit he helped establish under the name the Children's Television Workshop. No cause of death was given.

In a statement, Sesame Workshop hailed Morrisett as a "wise, thoughtful and above all kind leader" who was "constantly thinking about new ways" to educate.

Morrisett and Joan Ganz Cooney worked with Harvard University developmental psychologist Gerald Lesser to build the show's unique approach to teaching, which now reaches 120 million children. Legendary puppeteer Jim Henson supplied the critters.

Sesame Street is shown in more than 150 countries, has won 193 Emmys and 10 Grammys and in 2019 received the Kennedy Center Honor for lifetime artistic achievement, the first time a television program got the award.

Born in 1929 in Oklahoma City, Morrisett initially trained to be a teacher with a background in psychology. He became an experimental educator, looking for new ways to educate children from less advantaged backgrounds.

Morrisett received his bachelor's degree at Oberlin College, did graduate work in psychology at UCLA and earned his doctorate in experimental psychology at Yale University. He was an Oberlin trustee for many years and was chair of the board from 1975 to 1981.

Diversity, inclusion a goal

The spark for Sesame Street came during a dinner party in 1966, where he met Cooney.

"I said, 'Joan, do you think television could be used to teach young children?' Her answer was, 'I don't know, but I'd like to talk about it,"' he recalled to The Guardian in 2004.

The first episode of Sesame Street — sponsored by the letters W, S and E and the numbers 2 and 3 — aired in the fall of 1969. It was a turbulent time in America, rocked by the Vietnam War and raw from the assassinations of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy the previous year.

Sesame Street was designed by education professionals and child psychologists with one goal: to help low-income and minority students aged two to five overcome some of the deficiencies they had when entering school. Social scientists had long noted that kids who were white and from higher-income families were often better prepared.

Two women and a man stand in a theatre balcony, with one of the women offering applause toward the other two people.
Sesame Street creators Lloyd Morrisett and Joan Ganz Cooney are applauded by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the Kennedy Awards Honors in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 8, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

The show was set on an urban street with a multicultural cast. Diversity and inclusion were baked into the show. Monsters, humans and animals all lived together peacefully.

It became the first children's program to feature someone with Down syndrome. It featured puppets with HIV and in foster care, invited children in wheelchairs and dealt with topics like jailed parents, homelessness, women's rights, military families and even girls singing about loving their hair.

It introduced the bilingual Rosita — the first Latina Muppet — in 1991. Julia, a four-year-old Muppet with autism, came in 2017 and the show has since offered help for kids whose parents are dealing with addiction and recovery, and children suffering as a result of the Syrian civil war.

To help kids after 9/11, Elmo was left traumatized by a fire at Mr. Hooper's store, but was soothingly told that firefighters were there to help.

In the 1970s, Morrisett and Cooney, along with the writer and actor Paul Dooley, created The Electric Company, which was generally geared to children older than the Sesame Street demographic.

As with Sesame Street, The Electric Company was broadcast by the Public Broadcasting Service in the U.S., lasting six seasons.

With files from CBC News

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